Electro-acoustic music is a term used to describe a broad range of modern classical electronic music. It often explores the interaction of natural and electronically generated sounds and effects.
The term electro-acoustic refers to a process that happens in any microphone or loudspeaker – sound is transformed into electrical signals, and then transformed from electrical form back to sound. This process is central to all electronic music, because it turns sound into something that can be shaped using electronics and computers.
As a musical genre, electro-acoustic is sort of a catch-all term. As electronica is used to refer to any pop electronic music, electro-acoustic is often used to refer to any electronic music in the classical tradition.
Electro-acoustic grew out of the pioneering work of experimental electronic musicians of the 1940’s and 1950’s, such as Pierre Schaeffer. Shaeffer created Musique Concrète, a style of music that anticipated the later rise of sampling. Schaeffer was interested in the idea of manipulating sound as a tangible object. He took tape recorded sounds and created a huge variety of effects through splicing, speed changes, looping and reversing them.
It also incorporates the tradition of the early synthesists, such as Edgar Varèse. Initially, electronically generated sounds were used as source materials for further tape manipulation. In the mid 1960’s, the emergence of modular synthesizers and computer-based sound manipulation allowed further control over the shaping of sound. Artists like Morton Subotnick explored using gestures to control sound, and combined electronics and synthesizers with acoustic instruments and even dance.
The term electro-acoustic has been adopted by many artists and organizations working in the world of classical electronic music. While the technology of electronic music is constantly changing, electro-acoustic artists continue to draw on the history of ideas pioneered by early electronic musicians.